There are a lot of things that signal to us that the seasons are changing–though it seems lately, the weather isn’t one of them. One of definitive sign though, is skincare articles about how to adjust your beauty routine to account for drier winter weather. Am I right? Once those pumpkin spice lattés start steaming, blogs abound without tips for how to combat common cold season skin woes. I’ve written articles about seasonal skin health here, and also on the Nutritional Aesthetics® Alliance’s blog, but today I wanted to approach it from a slightly different angle. This is also the time of year the humidifier comes out of the hall closet (at least in my house), so naturally, the topic of humidifiers has on my mind. I’ve had friends who swear by using a humidifier for dry skin, to get them through winter without their skin completely freaking out. I’ve even recommended humidifier use for my clients with super-dry skin.
However, it’s always been in the back of my mind–especially when I teach about microbial growth associated with excessive moisture in Create Your Skincare, that humidifiers pose risks as far as bacterial and fungal growth. So I decided to do a bit of research on the subject. Here’s what I found–both the pros and cons–of using a humidifier for dry skin.
Why use a humidifier for dry skin during winter months
During cold, winter months–whether it’s due to the fireplace or your heating system–indoor air has less moisture in it. From a dry throat or hacking cough, to chapped lips and bloody noses, you have surely experienced some of this wrath.
Many people use humidifiers to ease these symptoms. Humidifiers emit mist, thereby increasing the amount of water in the air of a given space. This can especially be helpful when dealing with winter colds (especially if your humidifier has an essential oil well), as the extra moisture helps to ease congestion. Some parents find this useful for easing cold symptoms in children who are too young for conventional medication, or who choose to try natural and holistic means before medications.
Not only can humidifiers help deal with symptoms of colds, some may even lend a hand in preventing them. The moisture in the air helps to maintain the mucus membrane that lines your nose and throat; part of your body’s important defense against respiratory infections.
In certain climates, dry conditions may persist all year long. Dryness can also result from air conditioning and heaters, so if you run yours most months of the year, your house my might be chronically dry.
In addition to your nose and throat, your skin is also affected by how much moisture there is in the air. You’ve probably experienced what your skin looks like in high humidity (for me the effects are pretty amazing). Well, winter dryness has the opposite effect, essentially dehydrating your skin–the dry air actually can “suck” the moisture out of your skin, which is technically called trans-epidermal water loss (known to us aestheticians as TEWL). Not only does this exaggerate the look of fine lines and wrinkles, it can also exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea, and affect the skin’s immune function.
A good moisturizer containing rich emollients certainly helps!
Click HERE to learn to create and customize two simple, highly emollient skin moisturizers at home.
But if you’re constantly exposing your skin to dry conditions, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Thus, many people find it effective to humidify a room or two in their homes to mitigate dryness.
Types of humidifiers and their risks
Not all humidifiers are created equal. At the simplest level, humidifiers can be broken down into warm mist and cool mist.
Warm mist humidifiers create steam that cools before leaving the machine. The process of boiling the water before it enters the air kills off bacteria, making this type a generally more clean option.
Cool mist humidifiers vaporize but do not boil water. The pros of using this kind is that there is no risk of burning yourself, and they use less energy.
For parents who uses humidifiers in their kids’ rooms, cold mist if often preferred to prevent accidents. However, bacteria can accumulate quite quickly in standing water, and without boiling it first, this bacteria can be spread through the air, infection people in the room.
Sicknesses contracted through airborne bacteria emitted from humidifiers is not common, but is more likely among the immunocompromised, children, and the elderly.
Some cool mist humidifiers use UV light to kill microbials. I found this Health article to be a pretty helpful guide to a few different brands and types of humidifiers on the market. Since I have not used these, I’m not endorsing a particular one, but it’s a good overview of some of the price points and features available.
In addition to the threat of bacterial build up, mineral build-up can also be a problem. There was a case study at the University of Utah on an infant who was injured by breathing in airborne minerals from a humidifier. In this regard, distilled water is the ideal choice for filling your humidifier. There are also some humidifiers that claim to inhibit mineral buildup, which you’ll find in the above Health article.
Regardless of which type of humidifier you use, you should wash it every three days or more often to prevent the growth of bacteria, and if it uses a filter, change it often. You should also avoid filling the humidifier with tap water, which is not microbe free. The best option is to boil the water first, or use distilled water.
I’ll also caution you that sometimes humidifiers break–and you won’t always see it coming. I remember one night when my older daughter was really little, she came into our room in the middle of the night because she couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t she breathe? Because her warm mist humidifier went rogue and turned her bedroom into a tropical rainforest. It was literally raining from her ceiling, and we had to undergo preventative mold remediation just to be on the safe side. I will say though, that this particular humidifier was probably not the best quality–and as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
But that dewy complexion though…
There are risks associated with using humidifiers, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I hadn’t communicated them in addition to their benefits. However, with proper usage and cleaning, they really can be an amazing tool for getting through the winter,
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends a humidity level between 45 and 55 percent. Running central air in your home can reduce it down to a whopping 10 percent! This is a serious difference and can really affect your skin and respiratory health.
So many people trudge through winters, cursing how dry their skin looks and feels everyday. Dull, dry, lifeless… it’s not a fun look OR feeling. I don’t suffer as much now that I make my own skincare and am pretty diligent about my diet, but I still have my days.
In addition to drinking lots of water, using a heavier moisturizer, and limiting your time in steamy showers, consider adding a humidifier to your routine. Choose the type that’s best for you and clean it and change the filters often, and you may be on your way to taking your best holiday photo yet.
Do you notice a difference when you use a humidifier for dry skin? Positive or negative?
Please share your experience in the comments below!
Matt Freije – ‘Home Humidifiers – Reducing Your Exposure to Harmful Bacteria’